Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1)

For what purpose are you suggesting referring to writing, may I ask?

Writing is a very recent phenomenon in the history of H. sapiens, and does not extend to many human contexts and languages even today. Are you suggesting (perish the thought) that these peoples are somehow less human??

I’m not sure I get where you’re going with this.

Writing is motivated by the need to record the verbal agreements that resulted in marriage, contracts, and laws. Social behavior predates writing. Antoine what you should be looking for are indications of group behavior that would lead to language that would lead to cities that would lead to writing.


True. I’ve never met anyone personally who uses transformational grammar to describe minority languages. One critique I commonly hear is that it tends to see all languages through an “English as normal,” indo-european-centric lens, which introduces all sorts of complications when you are doing descriptive linguistics of languages that function very differently than English. Everyone I know uses Role and Reference Grammar or Lexical-Functional Grammar.


To be clear, what you’re postulating is very much what I would call explosive growth. So back to my question: what kind of natural disaster are you postulating that would leave the environment intact enough for explosive growth to occur immediately afterwards?

Again, what are you actually proposing? What kind of genetic interference creates a bottleneck of two in mammals? What examples are there?

No. Just no. Sure, there are an infinite number of possible hypotheses that can explain any set of data. No, science does not treat all hypotheses equally – it has heuristics that let scientists drastically restrict the set of hypotheses that they actually consider.

Remember, my claim was that “abrupt bottleneck of size two” and “slowly varying population size” should not be treated as equally valid scientific hypotheses. You haven’t given me any reason to change my view.


In order to single out a criterion allowing us to sharply establishing when God makes Humanity to a community of people in the Image of God.

I have the impression is what Ann Gauger is looking for after all, isn’t she?

The beginnings of Homo sapiens as an evolving biological taxon is a matter of arbitrary definition and are therefore necessarily fuzzy.

So what matters here is not “the history of evolving Homo sapiens” but establishing the beginning of the history of Humanity as community of Image Bearers.

Not at all!

Consider those in this thread who propose language as the criterion for distinguishing humans from animals:

Are they suggesting that new-born babies or hydranencephalic childs “are somehow less human”?

No. Their argument amounts to establish the time T when language appears, and then infer: all creatures exhibiting a human body after time T cannot be considered animals.

Similarly I argue:

The time when writing appears at about 3500 BC marks the moment when God makes the first humans in His Image: It is the moment referred to in Genesis 1:27. After the Flood all the extant human-like animals are made to Image Bearers: It is the moment referred to in Genesis 9:6; in the wording of @Bill_II one could say: at this moment the percentage of Image Bearers among human-like animals becomes 100%. In the time between this percentage increased both, by children generation and by further direct creation by God of “sons of God”, according to Genesis 6:1-4.

Since the moment referred to in Genesis 9:6 the percentage of Image Bearers among humans is 100% forever, independently of they write or not.

This thread is showing that “language” is highly controversial as a cut-off criterion. So it may be worth to try with writing.

I hope it is now clearer. If not, I will be pleased answering further comments.

Thousands of languages/cultures today do not have writing systems. Are they less image bearers, or less moral? Isn’t it problematic that writing was specific to relatively few societies until modern times?


To me this is an utterly bizarre interpretation of Genesis 9:6, but I am willing to be shown wrong. By chance are you aware of any scholarly commentaries that take this approach to that verse, namely that this moment of bestowing God’s image in this verse refers to a separate moment in time from humanity’s initial creation?

Forgive me if you’ve covered this in the other long thread with your name in the title. I have not been following that conversation at all.

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@glipsnort we are going far afield from the original goal into speculative territory.

The question, as I see it, is if a brief bottleneck is ruled out in the distant past by evidence.

As for the likelihood this, it will be strongly shaped by our prior beliefs, because there is not evidence to tell us one way or another.

Some people come to the table already believing that there was single couple origin. Some of us will dispute whether that is warranted (I certainly do), but that is their starting point based on their reading of Scripture. I do not think there is good reason to think there as a single couple origin from the scientific data alone. It seems like that is what you are asking for, but that data does not be possible to find.

“Explosive” growth is a highly biased term in this context. We are merely talking about the difference between 3 (observed in hunter gatherer societies) vs. 4 (what I initially said) children per couple, for just a couple centuries. This is hardly an absurd amount of growth, clearly in the realm of plausibility. We can look for the sensitivity of coalescence methods (PSMC and MSMC) to detecting tight bottlenecks with different growth rates afterwards. TMR4A is at about 500 kya, but I expect that number to move upward to about 600 to 700 kya with a growth rate you would find acceptable (e.g. 0.4% vs. 1%, or 3 children per couple instead of 4).

As for what could cause this?

That is irrelevant to the point. We are talking about what the data shows us. I can speculate totally untested natural mechanisms for a single couple origin, and have. However that is just speculative and not supported by data. I never claimed it was. There is not data here to discriminate.

People who think this is important for theological reasons, I am sure, are not making a scientific point. They would see that the data does not rule out a single couple origin during this time. Perhaps God made a couple and isolated them from their neighbors. We are not really talking science here. Once trust in that position will be entirely determined by theology (and not contradicted by evidence), but it is not my personal view, so do not ask me to justify it theologically.

I think large part of the confusion here is understanding how theological questions should negotiated the line between science and not-science.

From a purely scientific view, I think we can say:

  1. There does not appear to be evidence against a brief single couple bottleneck before about 500 kya, but that might be pushed back to about 700 kya or so.

  2. There does not appear to be evidence for such a bottleneck either.

  3. We cannot find good reason to think from a purely scientific point of view why precisely a single couple bottleneck would be expected, but there may be some reasons a small bottleneck might have taken place (e.g. natural disaster, etc.)

However, now thinking from a theological point of view, engaged with this science, we can take this further, beyond the science.

  1. Perhaps God created the first humans as a single couple, sole-genetic progenitors of us all, perhaps 2 mya.

Is that ad-hoc? Well, I’m not convinced by it, but I also cannot argue from evidence that it is wrong. If other’s feel it is not ad hoc, they can take that position. It really is not for science to say one way or another where the evidence is silent.

That is all I’m saying.

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I should add that the whole analysis is very tightly dependent most sharply on how many children Adam and Eve have. If they have, say, 8 kids, and then it goes down to just 0.4% growth from 2 centuries, then down to 0.04% long term, it would be very hard to detect.

Having 8 kids in one family is not at all implausible.

And having 3 of them die is quite within reason in a world without doctors and lots of physical risks…

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The question was discussed in the thread “My Theory about the Flood”. For the sake of accessibility to interested readers I develop my argument with pleasure in the follow:

First of all let me remark that about 362,000 humans in God’s Image are created each day around the world presently, that is, in “a separate moment in time from humanity’s initial creation”. So to this extent my interpretation regarding Genesis 9:6 is nothing bizarre.

Presumably you are astonished because I claim that Genesis 9:6 refers to the creation of Image Bearers the same way as God created the first ones (“Adam and Eve”). i.e.: by endowing human-like animals with capability to freely love Him.

Notice however that Genesis 6:2-4 explicitly refers to human beings called “sons of God” the same way as Adam is called “son of God” (Luke 3:38): This means that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2-4 were created the same way as Adam was created but in a separate later moment.

Gordon Wenham [Word Biblical Commentary I, Genesis 1-15, Word books: Dallas, 1987] following Claus Westermann claims:

Genesis 9:3-7 explain “why human life is specially protected, but animal life is not”, and proclaim “the inviolability of human life” that follows from “the unique right of God over life and death”: “Every single violation of this limit, be it based on national, racial or ideological grounds is here condemned” [p. 251]. Indeed the remark in Genesis 9:3 concerning food indicates a degree of distinction between humanity and the animal kingdom that was lacking in the vegetarian diet of Genesis 1:29 [p. 263-264]; and in Genesis 9:5-7 appears for the first time the prohibition of killing any creature belonging to humanity because mankind is made in the image of God.

One may wonder why this distinction and this prohibition were omitted in Genesis 1:26-29, as the “image of God” is mentioned for the first time. And even more astonishing is that the prohibition was omitted in Genesis 4:15, where to protect Cain God does not proclaim that he shares human blood and belongs to mankind but “put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” A reasonable explanation for such an “omission” in divinely inspired Scripture is that a sharp distinction between human and animal life would not fit with the ontological status of pre-diluvian Creation; such a distinction is appropriate only once all human-like animals on the earth were transformed into human persons. Since this allegedly happened after the Flood, only then (Genesis 9:5-7) God categorically proclaims that the right to life, foundation of the personal rights, is defined by the belonging to humanity. And here we meet to some extent the interpretation of Hendel, R. S.: The Flood narrative with its introductory pericope of the “sons of God” ends ordering “the human cosmos” [Of Demigods and the Deluge: Toward an Interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 106, No. 1 (1987), pp. 13-26, and References therein]. The ordering happens mainly by means of an explicit formulation of the foundation of rights and law.

Please let me know whether I have answered your question or you desire further clarifications.

I won’t derail this very important Buggs-Venema-Swamidass-Schaffner thread further with these matters, particularly if this has already been discussed elsewhere on the Forum (at length, apparently, during the months when I took a break from the Forum).

My opinion on your theory does not matter in the least, but I do find it quite implausible. I will leave it there. If you wish to continue, you can start a new topic.

I would appreciate knowing why you find it implausible. Since the issue is related to transmission of original sin I would like to suggest you post the reasons in this other thread.

Nonetheless I think it would be also fitting posting here since in the end the question at the core of the debate seems to be:

Is it theologically necessary that all Image Bearers are genetically or at least genealogically descended from a single couple?

I would be thankful to know your answer to this question.

You’re probably a super nice guy, so I don’t want to offend you, but in general when people come to the Forum here with their own pet theories that are not mainstream, I don’t find it particularly useful to spend much time engaging with them.

This is because

[1] the chances of my persuading such a person are slim to none, and
[2] there are no lurking readers who might be convinced by what I spend valuable time writing, because lurking readers are very unlikely to be in the same camp as the pet-theorist.

This is why I have not spent literally one minute even reading the thread “A.Suarez’s Treatment on a Pope’s Formulation for Original Sin’s Transmission!” despite its high traffic. Life is short, I already spend far too much time on this Forum, and I need to manage my time more wisely; I truly mean no offense to you. If you manage to publish an article and your ideas go mainstream, perhaps I’ll go back and read up on them.

But to respond ever so briefly, I like to believe that the ideas of fallenness and of God’s image actually have some real-world behavioral correlates. So as for the idea that, magically, presto change-o!, all humans became image-bearers through some ad-hoc miracle not recorded clearly in the Bible, I find it implausible and not worth pursuing further.

But I certainly wish you well, brother!


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Bill, it seems we both agree that Writing conclusively demonstrates the presence of humans who are in the Image of God.

I would be happy if you can argue convincingly that Language is a feature capable of sharply distinguishing Image Bearers from human-like animals as well. But (“Chomsky, non-Chomsky”) the debate in this thread rather suggests that it is not.

In any case moving God’s creation of the first Image Bearers from 3500 BC to 50’000 BC does not seem to be relevant for the core question in this thread, that is:

Can all Image Bearers of all times be considered genetic or at least genealogical descendants of a single couple, who God created ex novo or by making human-like animals in His Image?

And after all:

Do you think that setting the creation of the first Image Bearers at 50’000 BC instead of 3500 BC fits better to the Bible or allow us to avoid some important theological problem?

If NOT, let us keep to 3500 BC as the safest proposal, at least for the time being.

If YES, please explain why.

God didn’t see fit to give us any indication in the Bible as to exactly when we became image bearers so you can’t say which is better 50,000 years or 3,500 years. Knowing exactly when does solve or create any theological problem that I can see. If 3,500 BC makes you feel safe then by all means keep to that date.

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No, there is evidence, but it comes from disciplines other than genetics. Steve referred briefly to it here:

We have an example of a bottleneck that sheds light on the discussion. The Toba super-eruption 74 Kya affected the climate for about 5,000 years and precipitated a near-extinction event for H. sapiens. Another 5,000 years later, the human population experiences “explosive” growth as it departs the Levant and begins migrating across the globe. In short, we have geologic evidence of a natural disaster that precipitated climate change and caused a bottleneck, and we have evidence of climate change that affected population growth for millennia.

Genetics indicated a bottleneck in the human population just prior to the “Out of Africa” event, and other sciences provided corroborating evidence to verify that finding. Any hypothesis involving a bottleneck to two individuals followed by explosive growth cannot rely on genetics alone. As Steve asked, what sort of natural disaster could fit such a scenario? The science of genetics may not be able to rule out a single-couple bottleneck of that sort, but surely climatology, geology, archaeology, etc., have something to say about it.

No one is trying to distinguish humans from animals in this thread. That’s worthwhile discussion, but it’s not the focus at the moment. We’re simply pointing out that two people could not invent language. It’s an absurd concept. Any scenario that involves the special creation of Adam and Eve – whether in the distant past or in the fourth millennium B.C.E. – requires that God implant such knowledge in their minds. It’s a re-run of the “creation with appearance of age” idea, with one major difference: now we are talking about human beings, rather than inanimate objects like trees or rocks or distant stars. In any case, once we resort to that sort of explanation, science is out the window anyway, so why even bother to worry about scientific evidence?

On your remark about newborns and the severely disabled, this depends on one’s view of the image of God. If one takes Gen. 1:26-28 to be a statement of vocation or purpose, then none of us functions properly as the image. None of us love God or others as we should, and none of us perfectly reflect his goodness and moral character. This applies to everyone, newborns and the disabled and scientists alike. I realize this may conflict with some Catholic doctrines, which is probably where the disconnect lies.

Exactly. This is a problem for all “recent Adam” scenarios. Were human beings prior to 6,000 years ago ignorant of all moral principles? Was human culture prior to the Fall sinless? The problems are endless.


Let’s take a break from these discussions for Holy Weekend. I’m locking the thread temporarily.


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